2020 has been a challenging year for families. Kids’ circumstances have changed dramatically, for most shifting from predominantly in-person, hands-on living to remote living and the relative isolation that comes with it. The ongoing adversity, uncertainty, and loss caused by a global pandemic make many kids feel sad and frightened. In times like these, families want to focus on protecting their children’s safety and well-being. An important part of that is helping children find things they can be hopeful about.

What is hope?

Scientists and scholars define hope in many different ways. In its most basic form, hope is a belief in the possibility that something will happen. In this piece we’re focusing specifically on hope as the belief that things will get better. This kind of hope is based on 3 things: having goals, seeing one or more ways to achieve them, and feeling motivated to work towards them.

For many kids, it may be a leap to focus on personal goals in response to fears that things won’t get better. But considering personal goals can help them focus future-thinking on things they have the power to change. This can make it more likely that the things they hope for may happen.  

Helping kids find hope supports their emotional resilience, and provides protection from anxiety, depression, and feelings of self-isolation. Research studies have shown that feeling hopeful in adolescence increases a person’s likelihood of being psychologically well over the next few years, even during big life transitions.

Helping Kids Feel Hopeful

Even from birth, some kids have more hopeful dispositions than others. But there are things that parents and caregivers can do to help kids feel more hopeful:

  • Make yourself available emotionally. Spend time together, giving them opportunities to share how they’re doing. Be open and accepting of their feelings, and show them that you will help them find a way to manage feelings that are overwhelming or scary.
  • Take care of yourself, and nurture your own feelings of hope. Healthy emotional modeling from caring adults helps kids develop emotional awareness, understanding, and regulation skills.
  • Help kids identify the building blocks for their own hopefulness. Invite them to dream of future goals and select goals to work on. Work together to envision pathways towards achieving their goals. Encourage them to find energy and motivation within themselves to make progress towards their goals. For kids who struggle with self-esteem, growth mindset activities may be especially helpful for identifying pathways and finding motivation. 
  • If your child is anxious about health and survival, focusing on individual goal achievement may not make them more hopeful. It may be more useful to remind them of what the family is doing to stay safe and healthy. Your child may also find it helpful to work with you to find reliable information about scientific progress that is helping everyone be safe and healthy, like treatments and vaccinations.
  • Do these strategies seem too complicated for your family at the moment? There are lots of little things that can help people find hope. Take a moment during a meal to reflect on something positive in your lives. Go for a family walk for exercise, fresh air, and a mindful focus on the current moment. Before bedtime, have family members name 3 things they’re grateful for.

Embracing the whole

One last thought about hope. It’s not about denying the real adversity of our lives, and our children’s lives. A hope that is based on denying significant aspects of reality is at best foolhardy and at worst dangerous. Hope is the ability to feel optimistic in the face of adversity. And this is the bridge that connects hope to resilience. Helping children find hope is about recognizing that things feel bad, that some things are bad. And reassuring them that together, you will find a way to something better. And helping kids believe that they can be resilient is the biggest step towards helping them become resilient.